Cougars drop San Mateo on their way to the finals
What could have been labeled a rebuilding season at the start of the year as evolved into remarkable turnaround which has sent Lassen College's women's basketball team into the California Community College Final Eight. The eighth-seeded Lady Cougars (26-5) returned to the state championship tournament for the first time since 1994, following a 81-61 third-round Northern California Regional playoff victory over No. 16 College of San Mateo Friday, March 2.
In front of a raucous home crowd, Lassen never trailed, jumping out to a 20-6 lead and holding a 44-35 halftime advantage. The Bulldogs (21-13) pulled within seven in the second half, but fell victim to Lassen's customary second-half surge.
"We started out real strong," Lassen head coach Mark Nareau. "Melissa (Bunker) hit a three right off the bat and set the tone. Then Jamie (Wagner) followed with another three and we were on our way. We made adjustments the rest of the way and took them out of their game."
Nareau catered his defensive scheme to shutting down San Mateo's Kelly Wetteland and Lisa Smith. Wetteland, who scored 27 against Merced in the second round, was held to 11 points, including two in the second half. Smith got her points, pouring in 23.
"We put Jasmere (Kirby) on Wetteland at first and also had Alyson (Thurman) guard her," Nareau said. "With Alyson, we had a nine-inch advantage."
Lassen shot 45 percent from three-point range, hitting nine treys.
Wagner netted five three-pointers and led the Lady Cougars with 20 points. Kirby scored 16, and McKenzie Harrigan and Thurman netted 13. Bunker added a trio of three-pointers.
In the opening round of the Final Eight on Thursday at San Joaquin Delta College in Stockton, Lassen opens against Ventura - the state's No. 1 team.
"They're very athletic, and run and rebound well. They run everything off the high post," Nareau said. "We just have to go in prepared and know what to expect. We know how good they are, but we think we're pretty good too."
Final Eight semifinal games are scheduled for Friday with the championship game set for Saturday.
The Lady Cougars advanced to the third round by beating College of the Sequoias 77-56 at home Tuesday, Feb. 27.
Defensive adjustments on Sequoias' sophomore point guard LaToya Demery led to Lassen's second-round win.
"She really caught fire and kept them in the game in the first half," Nareau said. "We changed our defensive scheme to cut off her ability to penetrate and create."
Demeyer scored 12 points in the first half, but hit for only three in the second half.
The Lady Cougars led by as many as eight in the first half and held a 39-34 halftime lead.
Five Lassen players reached double figures in scoring.
Bunker drained a season-high six three-pointers and led the team with 22 points. The sophomore entered the game shooting 31 percent from beyond the arc.
Kirby followed with 14; Thurman netted 12; Harrigan scored 11 and Wagner supplied 10.
Sequoias earned the trip to Susanville by beating No. 9 Merritt 60-56 in the first round.
No. 11 Butte (20-14) dumped No. 22 Foothill 66-49 in the first round, and upset No. 6 Solano 61-49 in the quarterfinals. No. 3 Fresno City stopped the Roadrunners from advancing to the Final Eight, stomping Butte 78-66 last Friday.
No. 10 Shasta opened the playoffs with a 86-74 win over No. 23 Hartnell, but fell to College of Marin 85-77 in the second round to finish the season at 23-10.
No. 15 College of the Siskiyous (19-13) dropped No. 18 San Joaquin Delta 72-55 in the first round and had its season come to a close after bowing to No. 2 San Jose City 78-55. The Screaming Eagles had a 19-13 season.